Parental Gatekeeping & Parental Alienation

Parental Gatekeeping
For parents who are co-parenting after a divorce, parental gatekeeping can become a very serious problem when trying to co-parent and communicate effectively. Parental gatekeeping is a term used to describe a parent’s preferences and attempts to restrict and exclude the other parent from being involved in the child’s development. Gatekeeping attitudes and behaviors can range from very positive, which are facilitative, to very negative, which are inhibitory, or to the most extreme known as Parental Alienation.

Although restrictive gatekeeping usually occurs in divorced families, about 20% of parents in “intact” families are restrictive gatekeepers, 42% of parents showed an intermediate level of gatekeeping and about 37% were very cooperative and inclusive (Allen & Hawkins, supra n. 12 on page 200).  This shows that gatekeeping is much more common than most assume. For this reason mental health professionals as well as legal professionals must be educated and aware of parental gatekeeping and it’s negative effects on family cohesiveness.

Parental Alienation
Parental gatekeeping can become very extreme which is known as Parental Alienation (PA). Parental Alienation occurs when a parent alienates one or all children from the other parent. The rejected parent naturally reacts very negatively when the child resists spending time or communicating with them. Once the children begin rejecting the alienated parent, conflict ensues which is typically followed by legal action. 

The child’s view of the other parent can negatively change which will only further conflicts and litigation between co-parents. The treatment for parental alienation involves intense therapy for children to be reintroduced to the adult from which the child was alienated from known as reunification therapy. Once the child has been re-introduced, the parent who was doing the alienating must be treated as well with intense therapy to halt the behaviors as well as attitudes to allow participation from the other parent.

Attitudes versus Behaviors in Restrictive Gatekeeping
It is crucial to have the ability to distinguish between gatekeeping attitudes and behaviors. The theory that many researchers have developed states that a parent’s gatekeeping attitudes will lead to what is called “gate closing behaviors” which closes off a parent completely from the child . In the context of divorce and litigating parents, negative attitudes about the other parent and his or her parenting skills or knowledge is expected and usual. A common mistake by evaluators is to view a parent as non-supportive, even to a point of alienating the child, when the parent merely holds a critical attitude. 

The important issues that avoid parental alienation are if the parent can avoid impeding access to the child, cooperate with the parenting plan, and share information.

Common gate closing behaviors can include showing hostility at exchanges, not facilitating phone calls, derogating the other parent in front of the child, and being rigid or inflexible when there is a need to change or reschedule events in the parenting plan or time schedule.

Court & Legal Implications of Restrictive Gatekeeping
In court restrictive gatekeeping can be seen as Parental Alienation which has serious legal ramifications. Theses destructive behaviors can cause a great deal of damage to the children involved as well as a loss of parental rights. In extreme cases, children can be removed from the restrictive parent’s home and moved to the other parent’s home or guardian for safety. In extreme cases, a judge may rule that the parent is only allowed to interact with the child through supervised visitation programs. Although these are all extreme cases, the outcome of restrictive gatekeeping shows the negative outcome most, through children and how they begin to view the outside parent. The most important factor that contributes to healthy development in a child being raised in a divorced home, is the support of both parents without constant conflict and litigation.

Restrictive Gatekeeping Behaviors

  • Limiting communication, despite court order, between children and parent
  • Limiting time sharing with other parent
  • Withholding important information regarding the child
  • Interrupting time sharing with other parent
  • Speaking negatively about a parent with or in front of a child
  • Making decisions without the other parent’s input
  • Arguing or negative communication in front of children with other parent
  • Refusing to communicate with other parent
  • Being strict and non-flexible for necessary time changes to time sharing

If you think you or former spouse is engaging in these harmful behaviors or attitudes, please feel free to give us a call for a consultation! (561) 429-2140

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